Mario Lanza

Dubbed by Arturo Toscanini "the greatest voice of the 20th century," Mario Lanza was one of America's most successful singers and movie stars in the years immediately following World War II. Born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza on January 31, 1921 in Philadelphia, he was the son of Italian immigrants, adopting his stage name from the masculine form of his mother's maiden name, Maria Lanza. From the age of 15, he studied to be a professional vocalist, later signing to Columbia as a concert singer; however, his career took a left turn in 1943, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Billed as "the Service Caruso," Lanza performed for his fellow infantrymen and also sang in the production of Winged Victory; upon his return from duty, he relocated to New York, where he performed concert dates and appeared on radio. One of his audition tapes found its way to MGM's Hollywood studios, and after MGM chief Louis B. Mayer subsequently saw Lanza perform live, he signed the singer to a seven-year contract.